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Mark Ryan, with a little help from quasi-collaborator Why (right), is “Back to Form” via the new electronic project O-D-Ex. Photo by Mark Ryan

The Marked Men have been one of the state’s most beloved punk bands since the early aughts. Even if they never graced Pitchfork, their sentimental lyrics, infectious sing-along style, and raw, bratty delivery elevated the four-piece to the same vaunted level as the decade’s most heavyweight indie-rockers like The Strokes, The Hives, and Interpol. At least in the hearts of Texans, anyway. That esteem has followed the members to the myriad projects that have webbed out from the original Denton collective. Whether you trace the line of singer/guitarist Jeff Burke to Denton’s Radioactivity or his U.S./Japan collab with Yusuke Okada (Lost Balloons) or follow fellow Marked Men frontman Mark Ryan to the electroclash punk of Mind Spiders — or any of the other branches that lead to High Tension Wires, The Reds, The Chopsakis, or Low Culture — the path taken invariably leads to great music.

Now, there’s a new Marked Men offshoot. Ryan’s new solo project O-D-Ex seamlessly stretches from the subtle synth-coated punk of Mind Spiders to lean hard into the gritty digital sounds of so-called Krautrock and ’80s industrial à la Suicide, Kraftwerk, and Skinny Puppy, albeit with Ryan’s signature up-tempo punk flair. Following recently released videos for two singles, “Ley Line” and “Back to Form,” the project’s 11-song, full-length debut, Breaker, will be out Friday via Milwaukee’s Dirtnap Records.

The origin of O-D-Ex “really came from me complaining that I felt like it takes forever to get stuff done with a band,” Ryan said with a laugh. “The last Mind Spiders album came out in 2018, and I felt like with that band, things had kind of fizzled out. I’d kind of done everything I’d wanted to do with it. I’d been trying to figure out something else to do.”

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At the urging of friend and electronic music producer/composer Why — perhaps best known by his equally enigmatic alter-ego “M” from Denton electronic experimentalists Mission Giant — Ryan began messing around with a solo endeavor.

“A lot of it was me just getting into old digital synthesizers and digital samplers and drum machines,” Ryan said. “In Mind Spiders, I was pretty particular about things sounding very clean, and analog, and warm, but I just fell in love with that harsh digital noise and stuff like that, and I started experimenting with sounds and came up with a couple of song ideas I liked, and that sort of sparked things from there. It was an ongoing joke in Mind Spiders that Daniel [Fried], who played bass, would say, ‘You’re going to replace us all with machines someday,’ and that’s kind of what happened,” Ryan added with a laugh.

He shared his initial ideas with Why, who offered feedback and ended up becoming a quasi-collaborator.

“I come from a more electronic background in making music,” Why said. “I’d been kind of fanning [Ryan’s] flames toward that direction anyway. The thing about machines is they just want to work. They want to work when you want to work. For someone who has a bunch of ideas, just going hard, and going at it more or less alone, it actually allows for a faster result. That’s been my role, just sort of flame fanning.”

Ryan gives Why more credit than that.

“He plays it down,” he said of Why’s contributions, “but he definitely works almost like a producer role, telling me when something sucks or to try something else. He’s added a lot of parts to different songs and did the record cover and things like that.”

In Marked Men and Mind Spiders, Ryan said, he feels he may have “tried to be too serious. For O-D-Ex, I don’t take it seriously at all. I get to write lyrics with my wife, and they’re just silly — inside jokes and things that make us laugh, like wearing shorts in the winter.”

The lyrics might be silly, but the context in which they are delivered comes across as anything but. The driving pulse of synth lines and heavily distorted guitars ride the rapid punch and snap of digital drums while Ryan delivers his subliminally comic lines through a haunting robotic vocal effect. The result leaves the listener with the feeling of a blitzkrieg sonic wall bearing down, a schizophrenic aural assault that contrastingly retains an infectious slam-danceability and boasts the same subversive hookiness that has been the hallmark of all of Ryan’s material.

The songwriter has been pleased with the effort so far and the seeming simplicity of working in a more electronic medium.

“There’s a sort of immediacy to creating and recording these songs that’s really fun for me,” he said. “I can kind of bash something out real quick and come up with these ideas — it’s a very dirty and quick method of doing things, and I really like the results. It’s just really fun to make these sounds and this music.”

Courtesy Dirtnap Records

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